In a move designed to lift the sagging fortunes of the Fox web, 20th Century Fox Television topper Sandy Grushow has been upped to a new job that includes oversight of the entertainment side of Fox Broadcasting Co. as well as the studio.
Fox’s television network and production arms will continue to exist as separate entities, company execs were quick to emphasize Monday — clearly hoping to avoid comparisons with Disney’s decision last summer to merge operations of the ABC Television Network and Touchstone Television.
Indeed, Grushow, who now assumes the title of chairman, Fox Television Entertainment Group, is expected to announce a new leadership structure for 20th Century Fox Television within the next two weeks. Twentieth TV exec veep Gary Newman and drama exec veep Dana Walden, who are considered the odds-on favorites for the post, could also end up sharing the job as co-presidents, according to News Corp. sources.
Meanwhile, Grushow — who in three years has transformed 20th Century Fox into the leader in network television production — has also inked a new five-year contract with Fox, ending six months of speculation about his future at News Corp.
At the same time, the future of Fox Entertainment prexy Doug Herzog became a bit less certain Monday. Herzog will now report directly to Grushow, a relationship Herzog had previously indicated to colleagues he would not be comfortable with.
Fox Entertainment Group prexy and chief operations officer Peter Chernin announced Grushow’s promotion Monday, five years after Grushow was essentially dismissed as Fox Broadcasting’s chief programmer as part of News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch’s plan to broaden the net’s appeal. Grushow’s return in a way brings things full circle.
“Sandy is as good an executive as exists in television today, and one of the most talented and creative people I know,” Chernin said. “His appointment to this new post is testament to his skills as a programmer, marketer and manager and a reflection of the importance we place in strengthening our overall executive team. We have great confidence that the skills Sandy employed in propelling the production studio to industry dominance will complement and support Doug Herzog’s efforts to build Fox into the premier television network.”
In an interview with Daily Variety, Chernin said the decision to up Grushow was also “about strengthening the management structure of the company.
“I had both (the web and the studio) reporting directly to me, and I didn’t have adequate time to devote to both,” he said. “Doug is off to a really good start at the network, but he’s been in there all by himself. He needs someone to share some of the burden, and I felt I wasn’t giving him enough of my time.”
Chernin said he doesn’t blame Herzog for Fox’s disastrous fall start.
“A guy who comes in in the middle of January (when Herzog started) isn’t responsible for this,” he argued. “To the degree there are problems at Fox, they’re years in the making. To blame Doug for this year is stupid.”
Grushow said he expected to have a solid relationship with Herzog.
“Doug Herzog is the president of the Fox network’s entertainment division. It’s his area to run,” Grushow said, adding that Fox’s problems won’t be solved overnight.
“I have no illusion about how difficult the challenge is going to be on the network front.”
For his part, Herzog seemed to welcom Grushow’s arrival.
“Ever since (former Fox Broadcasting chairman and CEO) David Hill left, there’s been a vacuum in that position. Sandy is clearly the obvious choice to fill it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to his support and his leadership in helping me turn this thing around.”
Several industry insiders said Herzog could ultimately prosper with Grushow at the helm, pointing to the success former NBC Entertainment prexy Warren Littlefield had following the installation of Don Ohlmeyer as West Coast prexy. Many then thought Littlefield was doomed, but he instead became part of a team that made NBC No. 1.
Grushow will also bring to Fox his keen skills at marketing, a key point given the net’s need to re-establish its brand identity.
As for the relationship between Fox Broadcasting and 20th Century Fox TV, Grushow said the studio will continue to develop programs for other networks, while Fox Broadcasting will remain open to skeins from outside suppliers.
“We’ve created a studio television business valued in the billions. We’re not going to do a single thing to compromise that,” he said. “Our goal (at the studio) is to continue to be the No. 1 studio in terms of producing successful and profitable primetime content for the six major broadcast networks. Our goal (at the network) is to restore a clear sense of identity and purpose.”
While Fox Broadcasting and 20th Century Fox TV are not being merged, the two divisions will clearly work more closely now that one person is leading both.
And if the ABC/Touchstone history to date is any guide, that might not be a bad thing: Despite naysayers, Touchstone Television has had no problem selling to webs other than ABC.
Grushow praised Herzog for “bringing a very specific point of view to the network, and the point of view is consistent with how I like to think about the network, which is as an innovator and a risk taker.”
Around Hollywood Monday, reaction to Grushow’s new role was met positively.
“Sandy is just a very good network executive, and one of the few who’s seen both sides of the coin,” said the head of one rival web. “They threw Herzog in there with no help, and now he’ll have Sandy. It’s a good move for them.”
Jay Sures, partner and co-head of UTA’s TV division, called Grushow “a great leader” and said he’ll be able to help “get the Fox brand back intact.”
A Fox insider also welcomed the move.
“They had to do something,” he said. “(Grushow) is a shot in the arm for Fox. He’s a good manager. He’ll whip things into shape.”
Under Grushow, the studio has gone from the eighth-ranked supplier of network programming to the No. 1 studio, producing 20 primetime skeins, including “The Practice,” “Judging Amy,” “Ally McBeal,” “The X-Files,” “Stark Raving Mad” and “Roswell.”
Grushow first joined Fox in 1988 as senior veep of advertising and promotion. He was upped to exec veep of Fox Entertainment Group in 1991 and prexy in 1992, overseeing programming, marketing and skedding.
He left the company in 1994 to join the short-lived Tele-TV.